Sunday, September 26, 2010

Week Three Review: Two and D'oh

Saints fans now know what Niners fans/gang members felt on Monday.

Despite giving the ball up on an interception and a fumble on plays originating in Atlanta Falcon territory and allowing another turnover on a trick play, the New Orleans Saints still almost pulled it off.

Kicker Garrett Hartley's missed field goal attempt to win the game in overtime still didn't eliminate the team's capacity to win.

The Saints last gasp came when Saints head coach Sean Payton uwisely decided to "ice" Atlanta's kicker, whose first try was blocked. After an Atlanta penalty pushed the Dirty Birds back, kicker Matt Bryant still managed to give his team the win and a lead in the NFC South over the defending World Champions.

While it's easy to single out Hartley for the loss, the defeat was a team effort.

The front-seven struggled to put pressure on Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, who played like his nickname "Matty Ice", cooly keeping his team in the game and picking on Saints' first round draft pick cornerback Patrick Robinson.

The Saints D also couldn't shut down future Hall of Famer/ tight end Tony Gonzalez, who caught 8 passes for 110 yards and a touchdown.

Even the great Drew Brees had a mixed day, having a completion rate of 78%, 3 passing touchdowns and 365 yards in the air, but also notching his first two interceptions of the 2010 regular season, one of them costing the Saints what could have been a game changing touchdown or...dare I speculate...field goal.

Brees wasn't helped by his offensieve line, which gave up two sacks, and failed to provide him with the protection he needed to execute on his usual high level.

In the first Reggie-less game of the season, the Saints ground attack was abysmal, with the team collecting a mere 43 total yards in the rushing department.

While the Saints could have won this game, one might question whether they should have.

The team have played sloppy and the coaching staff hasn't fared better in play calling or clock management. Credit Atlanta had coach Mike Smith for perfectly working the 1st half time to his team's advantage. While the Saints committed errors and costly penalties, the Falcons were nearly flawless in their performance.

It seems the only Saints players who played at a high level on Sunday were wide receiver Lance Moore, tight end Jeremy Shockey and kick returner/gunner Courtney Roby.

You learn more from a loss than a win. That could be the only nugget from this game. In addition to losing to the hated Dirty Birds, Atlanta is largely in the driver's seat for the division. The Saints won't have a chance to even up the head-to-head series until late in December in the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons have won far more often than they have lost in the past two seasons.

The Saints have not played like champions thus far this season, with the offense sputtering and a close to non-existent rushing game.

And while Hartley will always have a Super Bowl championship ring and will be remembered as the player who hit the blankety-blank fleur-de-lis in the conference title game, the kicker needs to settle down and become consistent quick lest he gets dropped off from more than just people's fantasy football teams.

Just ask ex-Saints Brian Milne and Steve Gleason how far their careers with the team were extended by big game heroics.

Though it's still early in the season and there's a lot of football to be played, fans should be cognizant of how the chase for the first seed in the playoffs lasted until Week 16. Atlanta is a solid team with a smart and patient coach.

The Saints now find themselves in a hole and they need to go into their late season rematch at Atlanta with a two game lead in order to be secure in the divisional standings.

Just like the Saints didn't want to have to travel to Minneapolis for the NFC Championship game last season, the Black and Gold don't want to play for the division in the Georgia Dome.

Otherwise, the team will find itself in the all too familiar position of needing other teams to lend them a hand to nail down a wild card spot.

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